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A CurtainUp Review
Dracula The Musical

by Les Gutman

I followed him into the mist.
---Lucy Westenra
Tom Hewitt and Melissa Errico
T. Hewitt and M. Errico
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
As I sat watching both the goings-on onstage in this new Frank Wildhorn musical and the equally or more interesting twitching, yawning and early-departing of fellow reviewers in the audience, it occurred to me that the motion picture business has figured out how to do one thing that live theater has not. In the former, there is a category of product called "STV" -- straight to video -- to which work which will never accumulate the affection of critics (or those who pay attention to them) can be dispatched. In the theater, there is no way for a big musical to circumnavigate the ritual of opening on Broadway, even it is just to be thrashed before its after-market publicity campaign can commence.

Such is the fate of Dracula. From its opening moments, and in almost every respect, this is a painfully bad show. To make matters worse, the seriousness with which it is presented makes it clear that the creators are blind to the potential it might have if they were to embrace its "badness".

The pablum-esque nature of Wildhorn's music doesn't need to be discussed in detail. Suffice it to say his themeless yet over-emotional pop style is in full effect here, and strikes me as particularly derivative, not only of his own prior work but of others (with the Lloyd Webber influences especially strong). The lyric/book writers here are fully complicit in the tedium. Don Black (perhaps not surprisingly) and Christopher Hampton (much more so) have managed to homogenize Bram Stoker's story to the point all of its appeal has been stripped away; their writing couldn't be much clunkier. Dracula arrives in the middle of this year's Fringe Festival, which includes thirty-nine musical offerings. Many of them have their faults, but can be accepted as the work of new writers and directors still ascending the learning curve. Here, there is no excuse.

One might hope at least that the show's design and technical elements provide some appeal. Here, except for Catherine Zuber's extravagant costumes, they don't. Heidi Ettinger's sets have more moving parts than a Swiss watch, but still manage to get in the way. Howell Binkley's lighting (heavy on the ultraviolet and crimsons beams) is unadulterated Vegas, and Acme Sound Partners have somehow succeeded making the performers seem as if they are lip-syncing unintelligibly while rendering the paltry orchestra (three of the six members playing synthesizers) sound totally pre-recorded. A choreographer is credited, though there is no discernible choreography, unless it is to make the actors seem like cardboard figures of themselves. Flying by Foy performs its usual services here, though there is no longer much magic in it, especially when we add the necessary "to excess" to the description.

For the cast, I have greater sympathy. It is not possible to believe that the normally-accomplished Tom Hewitt purposefully rendered Dracula as leaden as we see him here. Or that Melissa Errico (who notwithstanding sounds and looks terrific) did not work to overcome the substanceless persona of Mina. Much of the remainder of the cast does indeed seem to have followed this Dracula into the mist. The only three cast members who make any impression at all are Don Stephenson whose Renfield remarkably seems to be a real (if creepy) person in all this muck; Stephen McKinley Henderson's Van Helsing, who overcomes some of the show's most deplorable writing to at least be interesting; and, in a few glimpses, Bart Shatto, who manages a few legitimate laughs as the out-of-place Texan, Quincey Morris.

Responsibility for all of this must of course fall on the shoulders of Des McAnuff, the director, though there are many guilty parties here. The lapses of judgment in this show are so massive that it hardly serves a purpose to seek out the few exceptions for notation. There can be nothing but sadness for the cynicism brought on by this expensive but haphazard and ultimately inexcusable production.

Dracula The Musical
Music by Frank Wildhorn
Book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton
Directed by Des McAnuff
with Tom Hewitt, Melissa Errico, Don Stephenson, Darren Ritchie, Kelli O'Hara, Chris Hoch, Bart Shatto, Shonn Wiley, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Celina Carvajal, Melissa Fagan, Jenifer Foote, Anthony Holds, Pamela Jordan, Elizabeth Loyacano, Tracy Miller, Graham Rowat, Megan Sikora and Chuck Wagner
Set Design: Heidi Ettinger
Lighting Design: Howell Binkley
Costume Design: Catherine Zuber
Sound Design: Acme Sound Partners
Choreography: Mindy Cooper
Aerial Staging: Rob Besserer
Projection Design: Michael Clark
Makeup Design: Angelina Avallone
Orchestrations: Douglas Besterman
Musical Direction and Arrangements: Constantine Kitsopoulos
Fight Director: Steve Rankin
Flying by Foy
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes with 1 intermission
Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street (6th Av/Bdwy)
Telephone (212) 239-6200
TUES - SAT @8, WED, SAT @ 2, SUN @3, SUN @6; $36.50-101.25
Opening August 19, 2004, open run
Closing 1/02/05
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 8/24/04 performance
Musical Numbers
Act 1
  • Prelude/Jonathan Harker
  • A Quiet Life/Dracula
  • Over Whitby Bay/Jonathan and Mina Murray
  • Forever Young/ First Vampire, Second Vampire and Third Vampire
  • Fresh Blood/Dracula
  • The Master's Song/Renfield and Jack Seward
  • How Do You Choose?/ Lucy Westenra, Mina, Quincey Morris, Jack, Arthur Holmwood and Company
  • The Mist/Lucy
  • Modern World/The Company
  • A Perfect Life/Mina
  • The Weddings/The Company
  • Prayer for the Dead/The Company
  • Life After Life/Dracula and Lucy
Act 2
  • The Heart Is Slow to Learn/Mina
  • The Master's Song (reprise)/Renfield and Dracula
  • If I Could Fly/Mina
  • There's Always a Tomorrow/Dracula and Mina
  • Deep in the Darkest Night/ Van Helsing, Quincey, Arthur, Jack, Jonathan and Mina
  • Before the Summer Ends/Jonathan
  • All Is Dark,Life After Life (reprise)/Dracula and Mina
  • Finale/Dracula and Mina
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